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Planning a water birth

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Whether you plan for your baby to be born in the birthing pool or fancy the idea of water calming you during labour, you’ll need to put some thought into making sure you get the birthing experience you desire.

Are water births safe?

There’s no evidence to show that babies born in water are any more likely to be stillborn or suffer health issues than other babies. Generally speaking if you are healthy, your pregnancy has had no complications, your baby is not premature and is in the right position for birth then there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to have a water birth.

How are birthing pools used?

Birthing pools are large tubs of water (think a Jacuzzi without the bubbles) used for women to labour and/or give birth in. The water is heated to 35-37C so that the mother doesn’t overheat and to allow the baby to come into the world at body temperature. The pool is big enough for you to get into different positions and your partner should be allowed in beside you to offer support if you both like. Your baby can be born in the birthing pool or you can use it to labour in and get out for the actual birth. It’s entirely up to you.

Why use a birthing pool?

Being in warm water is soothing and comfortable and even eases the pain of contractions. The buoyancy provided by the water helps alleviate any pressure you might be feeling and makes your baby bump feel weightless. Some women also find that using a birthing pool makes them feel less exposed and therefore more relaxed.

Where can I use a birthing pool?

Most hospitals and birthing centres now have at least one birthing pool. Your midwife will be able to tell you how many there are and the likelihood of one being available. Pools are usually allocated on a first-come-first-served basis so you may be disappointed if the pool is already in use when you go into labour. If you have your heart set on a water birth you may wish to opt for a home birth. Birthing pools are available to buy or hire and that way you’re guaranteed to have one available to you.

When should I get in the pool?

You can get into the pool whenever you feel ready. However, it’s recommended that you wait until labour is established before getting into the water. This is when you are 4-5cm dilated or when your contractions are less than five minutes apart. Remember that you can get in and out as many times as you like and it’s often the case that walking around then getting back into the pool can speed up labour.

What should I wear?

The short answer is to wear whatever you’re most comfortable in. Some women prefer to wear a t-shirt or a bikini/tankini top while others feel more comfortable being naked. Midwives have seen everything before so there’s no need to be modest. However, if your partner is planning to get in the pool beside you then remember to take a pair of swimming shorts for him!

Can I have pain relief?

water birthWhile the water itself acts as a form of pain relief, you might find you need something more to see you through. Entonox (gas and air) is safe for use in birthing pools and helps take the edge off contractions. While it may make you feel a little woozy, the effects of the gas and air will wear off as soon as you stop inhaling it. Pethidene and epidural are not administered in birthing pools as they can make you drowsy and need extra monitoring. TENS machines are also not allowed as they work from electricity so cannot be used in water.

Will I have to get out?

If you decide to use some forms of pain relief, as above, then yes, you’ll have to get out of the pool. Otherwise, you can generally stay in the water for as long as you like. It’s a good idea to get out to move around and empty your bladder every so often and your midwife may recommend you get out of the pool to be examined or if there are any complications.

What happens when a baby is born in the water?

When your baby is born she will still be getting plenty of oxygen through the umbilical cord. She won’t start breathing on her own until her nose and mouth reach the air. Babies born in water are often more calm than those born on dry land so don’t panic if yours doesn’t immediately start to cry. The midwife will hand you your new baby and you can cuddle in for skin-to-contact straight away.

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About Maria Brett

About Maria Brett

Maria is a freelance writer with over 10 years' experience producing content for a variety of publications and websites. When not working or looking after her two gorgeous sons, she can usually be found playing flugelhorn in a brass band, helping out at her local hospital radio station, shouting at the television while watching Formula 1, at the cinema or plonked on the couch with a cold glass of wine.

Website: Maria Brett

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